Despite the fact Kiwis have been playing against the All Blacks throughout the professional age, it remains an odd business for current players to confront their own in the test arena.

Last week it was former Hurricanes captain Brad Shields who guest-starred for the opposition and this week in Dublin, it will be former Chiefs midfielder Bundee Aki.

One minute a player is a club teammate, the next he's an international foe and no one it seems can easily get their head around that.


It's probably because not many players want to confront their true feelings about this because deep down they know it's not quite right.

They know that at some stage in the past, their new foe stood with them expressing some kind of desire to see the All Blacks smash his adopted country.

[Ireland dealt double injury blow for All Blacks test]

So there is an awkwardness about that – a need to brush that out of history for fear of how destructive the truth could be.

Aki makes for a particularly interesting case study as he owes his presence in Ireland's midfield to a rather cold, calculating and ethically questionable recruitment policy by the Irish Rugby Football Union.

A while back they started to worry they didn't have in the pipeline a natural successor to Brian O'Driscoll in their midfield.

So they took the proactive step of making a succession plan which saw them scour the world. O'Driscoll had a few years left so why not take the search global and use the eligibility laws to their advantage – recruit offshore and in three years they will have a qualified Irishman ready to take over.

So Blues utility back Jared Payne ended up in Ireland, ostensibly taking a contract with Ulster that had the promise of a test jersey attached.


The same deal was offered to Aki a few years later and lo-and-behold, O'Driscoll retired and Payne took over.

Bundee Aki. Photo / Getty
Bundee Aki. Photo / Getty

Now that Payne has retired, Aki is the mainstay in the Irish midfield and while this sort of recruitment is entirely within the laws, it is outside the spirit of the game.

If this strategy persists then the chances are high that the next generation of Ireland's midfield will be watching the test in Dublin this weekend in New Zealand, cheering for the All Blacks and desperately hoping one day to play for them.

Just as likely is that there will be a young Irishman at Aviva Stadium screaming the house down, oblivious to the fact there is someone on the other side of the world destined to steal his dream in the future.

No one can believe surely that recruitment of this sort doesn't in some small way damage the integrity of test rugby?

But of course rugby's code of omerta ensures that the subject is glossed over.


The players know that it's easier to shrug and say that's just how it is and seemingly embrace the novelty of it all. For what else can they do?

To speak out runs the risk of causing trouble for everyone – shining a light on the ugly parts of the test scene doesn't help sell tickets, win sponsors, attract broadcasters and ultimately keep the gravy train chugging along.

Besides, it's not the players who are responsible for making the rules or setting recruitment policies which is another reason why they will continue to treat these encounters as curiosities rather than travesties. "It was pretty weird last week playing against Shieldsy [Brad Shields]," says All Blacks hooker Dane Coles. "I went to check the ground before kick-off and I was pretty relaxed. And he had the headphones, not giving me much.

"I didn't take my eyes off him [during the haka]. I found him and I just looked straight at him and we locked eyes the whole haka. He wasn't giving me much and I was going hard out so it was a good little moment.

"It is weird especially when we are so close. I have played a lot of rugby with Shieldsy and when you have a personal relationship it is quite difficult. But once I got on the field I tried to counter ruck him and he was like 'come on then' so when you are out there, you are there to do a job and put those relationship aside when you are on the field.

"But we were happy to catch up after the game which was awesome. It is just the nature of what is happening now, guys are finding other opportunities to play international football and that is all good."